Riding Giants (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 22, 2009 by  

Fantastic! Stacy Peralta follows up “Dogtown and Z-Boys” with an awesome documentary on the evolution of big wave surfing and focusing on two of the greats: Greg Knoll and Laird Hamilton.  Featuring vintage surfing footage to even the death defying wave that Hamilton surfed at CHOPU, “Riding Giants” is a fantastic surf documentary done right and looks and sounds great on Blu-ray!

Images courtesy of © 2002 Vans, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Riding Giants


DURATION: 101 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH, Hindi

RATED: PG-13 (For Brief Strong Language)

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RELEASE DATE: January 5, 2010

Directed by Stacy Peralta

Written by Stacy Peralta and Sam George

Executive Producer: Nathalie Delest, Laird John Hamilton, Franck Marty

Producer: Jane Kachmer, Agi Orsi, Stacy Peralta

Associate Producer: Paul Crowder

Cinematography by Peter Pilafian, Grant Washburn

Edited by Paul Crowder


Jeff Clark

Darrick Doerner

Laird John Hamilton

Dave Kalama

David H. Kalama Jr.

Brian L. Keaulana

Buzzy Kerbox

Titus Kinimaka

Gerry Lopez

Mickey Munoz

Greg Noll

Grabrielle Reece

Evan Slater

Kelly Slater

Darryl Virostko

Mike Waltze

Grant Washburn

From acclaimed director Stacy Peralta comes Riding Giants, the story of big wave surfing. Breakingthe mold of traditional documentary filmmaking, Riding Giants uses its dynamic, cross-generational approach to profile the lives and times of the intrepid surfers who over the decades have dedicated themselves to finding and successfully challenging the biggest waves on earth. We meet Greg Noll, the pioneer, whose relentless push into Hawaii’s big surf in the late 1950s earned him the nickname “The Bull.” There’s Jeff Clark, Northern California’s lone frontiersman, who, after discovering the massive waves of Maverick’s near San Francisco, rode there alone for over a decade. And finally Hawaii’s Laird Hamilton, the prototypical “extreme” surfer, a rare breed of athlete/innovator considered as the best big wave rider who ever waxed a board. Through a fast-paced combination of mediums that include classic archival photography, spectacular movie footage – both current and vintage – and contemporary interviews with the sport’s greatest surfers, experts and storytellers, Riding Giants captures the rich visual history of one of the most dramatic athletic adventures of our time. — Sam George, Global Editor SURFER Magazine

With the success of Stacy Peralta’s (famous skater and one of the original Dogtown Z-Boys) award-winning documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys” in 2001, surfer/skater turned filmmaker Stacy Peralta went on to work on his next documentary in 2004 titled “Riding Giants”.

For this documentary, Peralta’s goal was to focus on the origins of surfing and big wave riding.

“Riding Giants” would feature plenty of classic home movie footage of surfers from Hawaii and the West Coast to show the culture and what happened when the surfers from California (who fell in love with a photo of three surfers riding 30+ foot high waves) went to Hawaii and discover the waves for themselves.

From the surfing innovators of the 1940’s to the early 1950’s when the lightweight longboard was created and paved a way for more people to take on the sport.  Featuring big wave surfers Greg Noll, Pat Curren and many other surfers who surfed Windansea and Vandenberg and then left to Hawaii and  paddled out and attempted what was thought impossible at Waimeia Bay and learning about the transition from 80 lb. boards to the creation of guns for big wave surfing.

In Dec. 1969, the greatest waves ever recorded in Oahu took place due to a massive low pressure system.  The dangerous storm created waves as high as six stories.  This segment featuring Greg Noll surfing the largest wave ever attempted at the time in Makaha.

In the 70’s, longboards became overshadowed by shortboards and Waimeia had been usurped by the Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach.  But by the 80’s, the giant wave riding experience was celebrated through tournaments and how Ken Bradshaw, Marc Foo brought big  wave riding back to Waimeia.

As the film shifts to the 1990’s, the film would also feature Mavericks in California known for its big waves, the challenges of surfing the break but also featuring the death of Hawaiian big wave rider Mark Foo in 1994 with actual footage and photos of December 23, 1994.

The film would close out with the most recognized name and face of big wave surfing and the creation of tow-in surfing, Laird Hamilton.  Featuring awesome footage of Laird Hamilton riding a tremendously insane waves including the August 2000 footage of Hamilton riding the most dangerous wave ever attempted (note: the huge swell formed an enormous amount of water under, behind and over Hamilton) and captured on film at CHOPU in Tahiti.

Peralta’s “Riding Giants” manages to showcase the progression of big wave surfing and its evolution from the 1940’s to modern times.


“Riding Giants” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1).  Picture quality varies as classic home video footage to modern footage looks very good  but you can see the combing at times.  In certain interviews, the jump to HD increases the grain amount of certain footage but for the most part, considering that this documentary focuses on the history of surfing, specifically big wave riding and we have all this vintage footage included in this documentary, the importance is seeing this vintage footage that has only been part of someone’s home collection for so many years.

The fact that Peralta was able to obtain so much of this older footage is remarkable and you may not get the best PQ due to the age of the video footage, but it still gets a big boost in PQ compared to its DVD counterpart now that the footage is featured in 1080p High Definition.

As for audio, the documentary is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  Truthfully, I don’t expect too much from documentaries using the surround channels and that dialogue and music are typically front and center channel driven but to my surprise “Riding Giants” features audio utilizing the surround and rear surround channels.  You actually hear the waves crashing all around you and you hear the seagulls that is fantastic!  The documentary is dialogue driven but the fact that the documentary did feature lossless audio utilizing the surrounds was pretty awesome.

Subtitles are featured in English, English SDH and Hindi.


“Riding Giants” comes with the following special features in standard definition, in English stereo with English subtitles. Included are:

  • Director and Editor’s Commentary – Audio commentary by Stacy Peralta and editor Paul Crowder talking about the footage and how grateful they were able to get music and footage for the documentary.  Peralta talks about how the documentary came together and interviewing Greg Knoll,  Greg Hamilton and more.
  • Writer and Surfers’ commentary – Audio commentary by Sam George, Greg Knoll, Jeff Clark and Laird Hamilton.  It’s cool to hear the surfer’s commenting on the footage and further insight from Greg Knoll surfing in Hawaii for the first time.  But everyone’s commentary when Laird surfed the killer wave in CHOPU and even to even hear from Greg Knoll and hear him stoked about that wave.  Also, to hear Laird talk about it and how it was made possible because of the straps on the board.  Awesome commentary!
  • The Making of Riding Giants – (28:04) Featuring Stacy Peralta and producer Agi Orsi talking about how the documentary came to fruition and how Stacy was inspired by Greg Knoll and Laird Hamilton to create a documentary about big wave surfing.
  • Fuel TV’s Blue Carpet Special – (20:21) Fuel TV at the premiere of “Riding Giants” and interviews with the cast and crew promoting the film.  But interesting comments from Peralta of the challenges of doing a documentary on surfing and the pressures involved.
  • Deleted Scenes – Five deleted scenes which include: Surf Talk, Wave Complexity, Half Moon Bay, the Original Ending and end credits sequence.

When I saw this film for the first time, needless to say that I was quite interested to see what Stacy Peralta had to bring after the successful documentary “Dogtown with Z-Boys”. And after watching his latest documentary, I was amazed of how much footage he was able to get for this film.

Peralta keeps his footage consistent by focusing on the evolution of big wave surfing and I thought it was fantastic how he was able to interview a good number of people for the film but also incorporate their home video footage into the film.  Similar to “Dogtown with Z-Boys”, where Peralta featured an amazing number of clips and photographs that no one has seen but the owners, he repeats it with “Riding Giants” and the results are fantastic.

As a surfer myself, I’ve grown up to read the stories featured in the film but to hear it from the people and see actual photos and video is amazing.  Greg Noll surfing a huge wave during a major storm is featured in the documentary and to hear him and friends talk about it is very cool but most of all, for those of us who were stunned by Marc Foo’s death (especially for us who watched “Prime Ticket” and see him covering the various surf competitions on television back in the 90’s) were shocked because Marc Foo was among the best from Hawaii in big wave surfing and to hear that he died at Mavericks was a shock.  But I was surprised of how Peralta was able to gather photos and even video footage from that day and to hear those who were present, those who recovered his body was indeed a shock.  But to show the memorials was fitting but also to mention other names include Todd Chesser’s death (which was another shock) was also fitting about the challenges of surfing these big waves.  People who know that they can die by attempting the large surf but know that they can’t pass it up, this is their passion.

And of course, what better than to end these film with Laird Hamilton.  An innovator and just an all-out gutsy guy that surfer’s appreciate for his humbleness but the fact that he is not afraid to conquer the largest of waves.  Also, the documentary is fitting for showcasing his talent as big-wave surfer.  Dana Brown’s documentary “Step Into the Liquid” showcases Hamilton’s innovation towards tow-in surfing but Peralta’s “Riding Giants” focuses on Laird’s mindset of conquering the wave and also featuring footage from him challenging the deadliest wave ever see in CHUPO.

The Blu-ray release of “Riding Giants” is similar to Peralta’s “Dogtown with Z-Boys” in the fact that one should not expect the great picture quality in HD for the documentary as there is so many types of footage incorporated in the film.  From home video to classic vintage footage and photography that ranges in quality.  But that is what makes this documentary so enjoyable because it is able to feature this time capsule of vintage surfing footage and those who were involved with big wave surfing from the 1930’s to the 2000’s. Audio quality is actually pretty awesome as we hear the lossless audio and the waves crashing all around us.  I definitely like how the surrounds and rear surrounds were used in this documentary.   And also, how they managed to keep all the special features intact including the FUEL TV’s “Blue Carpet Special” (unlike Dana Brown’s “Step Into the Liquid”, the Blue Carpet Special was dropped in the Blu-ray release).

Overall, “Riding Giants” is a wonderful documentary and Peralta really did his homework in gathering the materials to make sure that he managed to keep the pacing intact from the 1940’s and showing us how big wave surfing had progressed.

Of course, there is only so much that can be incorporated in this 101 minute documentary and a lot of surfers are not included.  But even in the audio commentary, Sam George explains how it would be too difficult to make this film in chronological order and feature everything especially during the 60’s and 70’s, so they tried to focus on several people.

For the most part, this “Riding Giants” is fantastic but I wished there was some inclusion of big wave surfing from the 1970’s and 80’s which was barely featured in the documentary.  But it’s a documentary done right and I think that it helped having Peralta working with Sam George, Knoll and Hamilton in order to make this film right.   So, it’s good to hear a documentary in which the people featured are all in unison so supportive of it.  But overall, “Riding Giants” was a title that I was hoping would come out on Blu-ray and sure enough both Peralta documentaries (including “Dogtown and Z-Boys”) are both being released together on the same day which is definitely awesome!

There are not many surfing related films on Blu-ray, but finally we get one of the better surfing film’s out there with “Riding Giants”.  For those who own the previous version on DVD and have a pretty solid home theater setup at their home, then the upgrade to Blu-ray is well worth it.

Even if you have never seen this documentary before and have an interest in surfing, “Riding Giants” is definitely a title worth owning!  Highly recommended!

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